31 August 2011

Weak Government = Strong People

To think that this could still be said of America 150 years ago:

"It is in consequence of having observed the effect of such armaments in the despotisms of Europe and Asia that the free governments of modern times take good care not to allow large standing armies to be formed. Instead of this the people organize themselves into armed bands, in connection with which they meet and practice military evolutions on appointed days, and then separate and go back to their wives and to their children, and to their usual occupations, while in the despotic countries where large standing armies are maintained, the people are strictly forbidden to possess arms, or to form organizations, or to take measures of any kind that could tend to increase their means of defense against their oppressors in the event of a struggle.

The consequence is, that under the free governments of the present day the people are strong and the government is weak. The standing army of France consists at the present time of five hundred thousand men, completely armed and equipped, and devoted all the time to the study and practice of the art of war. By means of this force one man is able to keep the whole population of the country in a state of complete and unquestioning submission to his will. In the United States, on the other hand, with a population nearly as great, the standing army seldom amounts to an effective force of fifteen thousand men; and if a president of the United States were to attempt by means of it to prolong his term of office, or to accomplish any other violent end, there is, perhaps, not a single state in the Union, the population of which would not alone be able to put him down—so strong are the people with us, and so weak, in opposition to them, the government and the army.

It is often made a subject of reproach by European writers and speakers, in commenting on the state of things in America, that the government is so weak; but this we consider not our reproach, but our glory. The government is indeed weak. The people take good care to keep it weak. But the nation is not weak; the nation is strong. The difference is, that in our country the nation chooses to retain its power in its own hands. The people make the government strong enough from time to time for all the purposes which they wish it to accomplish. When occasion shall arise, the strength thus to be imparted to it may be increased almost indefinitely, according to the nature of the emergency. In the mean time, the people consider themselves the safest depositary of their reserved power."

-from Peter the Great by Jacob Abbott

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